Most mainstream movies are based on the philosophy followed by the makers of potato chips. When we pick up a packet, it seems so full, so ready to burst, but when we rip it open, we realize it’s mostly air – there’s just half a bag of chips in there. So too our films, whose first halves are practically empty – we have to wait for the second half for things to get going. So a certain amount of pointlessness in the early portions is par for the course. What’s shocking in M Saravanan’s Valiyavan is how excruciating this pointlessness is. You may end up feeling physical pain.
The first half is almost entirely devoted to the romantic track between Vinod (Jai) and Subhiksha (Andrea Jeremiah). You think there’s going to be a kiss. There is. Vinod ends up locking lips with a beggar. You think there’s going to be a proposal scene. There is. Vinod ends up puking on a woman whose boyfriend is proposing to her. What is this obsession we have with vomit? Earlier, it used to be just a plot device to inform us that a female character was pregnant. Now, no film is complete without its men drinking too much and upchucking all over. Maybe we should look at the bright side. At least when it comes to emptying the contents of one’s stomach, there’s no gender discrimination in Tamil cinema.
The writing is so dreadful that the actors couldn’t have done much. Even so, Jai and Andrea come off miscast. At one point, Subhiksha asks Vinod if he remembers May 5. She’s referring to the day they met, but he says it’s Karl Marx’s birthday. Really? He just has that nugget stored in his head? If you going to give us this scene, shouldn’t you at least prepare us for it – say, with, uh, a shot of Vinod leafing through Das Kapital as he has his customary “quarter” at the local TASMAC joint?
As for his co-star, she has a much bigger role than usual, and we are that much more aware of how inhibited, how cautious she is in her approach to emoting, as if doing too much would rearrange her features and mar her prettiness. She gets her version of Jai’s Karl Marx scene when she has to summon up all her inner bile and spit out the epithet, “Poda vengaayam!” In terms of the distance between actor and character, it’s like watching Manobala play the lead role in Nayakan. But she looks fantastic, which is probably the point. There’s a scene in which she steps out of a car and, in a shimmery gold dress that appears painted on her, walks up and down the road, as if it’s a catwalk. The theatre went berserk. This is the point the director, vindicated about his casting, looks at the critic and says: “Poda vengaayam!”
Subhiksha says she loves Vinod. Later, when he says he loves her, she walks away. And then she asks him to go beat up a boxer who just won a silver medal at the Olympics, which gives us the scene where Vinod, who knows nothing about the sport, picks up tips from a sage he meets at a temple. By this point, the film has reached a surreal level of badness. And then it turns out that the story is really about Vinod and his parents (Anupama Kumar and Azhagam Perumal, who plays Raghu). I liked the fact that Raghu is Subhiksha’s friend – but why don’t we see more of him? Probably because the “youth audience” would rather see Subhiksha in that gold dress.
But by relegating these important characters to the corners, the film misses the opportunity to involve us in Vinod’s plight, in his mission. There’s a bit involving Vinod and his parents and a Rubik’s Cube. It’s the only place we actually feel anything, where we care about anyone. And then it’s back to Vinod and Subhiksha. Another filmmaker would have slowed down to highlight the conversations Raghu has with Vinod and with his wife during the climax. This is the whole why of the movie, it’s what we’ve been building towards. But these conversations are drowned out by the rah-rah background music, which is readying us for the final fight, where Vinod will rip his shirt off and reveal a six-pack. At least when it comes to ogling at physical assets, there’s no gender discrimination in Tamil cinema.
- valiyavan = strong man
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